Ever since I got to play the first NES version of Castlevania in the 80s, I’ve had a serious crush on the early incarnations of this game series. The name is perfect. It’s a game about killing Dracula, and to do so you have to single-handedly invade his castle and reach his evil tower where you will literally whip his ass to bits.
Look this up in the dictionary. I believe you'll find it under "Fucking awesome"
In my young mind, before games like Ninja Gaiden played around with more complex narratives, this was the most amazing story to be allowed to play. There is something to be said for simplicity and linearity that the early Castlevania titles exemplify:
As Simon Belmont stands outside the imposing gates of the castle courtyard, looking up at the dark castle looming ahead. This is his first opportunity to turn back. He passes through the eerily quiet courtyard, lit by a few lone torches. He reaches the entrance to the castle proper, and you, the player, make him walk inside. The gate slams shut behind him. The music kicks in. He is immediately assailed by panthers, bats and ghosts. Holy. Shit.
He fights his way to the end of the entrance hall, defeating a giant killer bat by throwing axes at it (you know you did). Then the gravity of his situation sets in.
Castle map from the Japanese manual
Linearity and the need to fight
The thing about Castlevania and the linear narrative that I like so much, is that once Belmont breaches the gate, there is no turning back. Every door slams behind him. He is being led inextricably towards the final confrontation with Dracula himself in the lonely peaking tower of the decrepit castle, and the path ahead is gruelling indeed. But he must fight. Simon has gone and gotten himself into this shit because it is what the Belmont family does. When Dracula reappears, the Belmonts must defeat him. That is what they are born for, it is what they do. Someone said every generation has to experience some sort of war, well, every generation of Belmont needs to experience some sort of Dracula.
As Castlevania titles and other games experimented more with freeform gameplay, the systemic complexity of the gameplay perhaps changed for the better, but as the impetus to fight became blurred. Since Castlevania became Metroidvania, the primary reason a Castlevania character fights is out of duty. There is no real gravity felt by the player. Just the battle, for the battle’s sake.
Other games “suffered” for me in this regard too. I’m not about to say nonlinearity is bad. I’m trying to say that linearity used well with purpose can offer the player a need to play that nonlinear games cannot. I’m not ashamed to say I haven’t completed a single Grand Theft Auto game, ever, though I’ve played them all and enjoyed them for their sandbox fun. Given such freedom, there simply isn’t enough need to go on.
So Simon goes to the castle, alone. First out of a sense of duty perhaps, but once that gate slams shut his path is clear. There is no turning back. There is no time to dilly dally around the place or “explore” or any of that crap. Either Simon dies, or Dracula dies. Death at the end. That’s all there is.